An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, by John Brown. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001. Pp. xxx + 451. $27.99 (cloth). (Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.)
The Banner of Truth Trust is publishing many commentaries, but all written in previous years. Some are written by Puritan writers; some by John Calvin; and some by more recent authors, such as Edward Young. This book is a part of that series, called “Geneva Series of Commentaries.”
John Brown was a Puritan of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. His father and grandfather were also ministers, of the same name. He was pastor of the church in Biggar, Scotland from 1806 to 1822; he then moved to Edinburgh, where he pastored two congregations before becoming professor of Exegetical Theology in the United Secession Church.
He has written an excellent commentary on the book of Galatians. He must have been an able exegete and must have occupied the chair of Exegetical Theology with honor, if one may judge by this commentary. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians has ranked in importance only a little lower than the letter to the Romans. Luther was quoted as saying that, of all the books he wrote, only his Bondage of the Will and his Commentary on Galatians were worth preserving after his death. Galatians is crucially important today as well, as a strong antidote to recent apostasies that teach justification by faith and works. No one promoting this heresy can deal properly and honestly with Galatians. This commentary is a good one.
A few instances of the excellent material in the book will give some idea of its worth.
In describing the error of Judaism, which plagued the Galatian churches, Brown quotes Luther: “They made good works, which are the effect of justification, its cause,” to which Brown adds the comment: “This was to ‘pervert’; and by this perverting the gospel, they ‘subverted the souls of the disciples'” (pp. 43, 44).
Brown is sharp in his defense of justification by faith alone. He writes: “Every plan which, like that of the Judaising teachers, leads men to depend on their own obedience to any law to any extent, in any degree, either as the ground of their justification or the means of their justification is another gospel” (p. 45).
Brown’s discussion of chapter 2, in the main a defense of Paul’s apostleship, is excellent in every respect, but particularly his explanation of verses 6, 7 and Paul’s rebuke of Peter (pp. 87, 88).
Strangely, the body of the commentary does not contain a detailed development of the concept “justification.” The development of that concept is put into a lengthy footnote, covering almost two pages of small print. One would make a mistake to bypass that footnote.
Brown has an interesting explanation of the difficult passage in 3:20, of which passage Brown says that there were at his time 250 interpretations. That number has since been increased. 3:20 reads: “Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.” Brown’s interpretation is worth reading.
Brown inveighs strongly against allegorical interpretations of Scripture and warns against their danger, but one wonders whether he heeds his own warning in his interpretation of the “allegory” Paul uses in 4:24-27. Again, however, one ought to read Brown before making up his own mind.
In his discussion of 5:17, Brown demonstrates conclusively that sanctification in this life is only accomplished in principle. Connecting this verse with Paul’s discussion in Romans 7, he writes: “‘The flesh’ here obviously signifies the depraved inclinations which are natural to man in his present state, and which, though subdued, are by no means extinguished even in the regenerate. These inclinations are personified under the name of ‘the flesh,’ and are represented as ready to seize every opportunity that is afforded for obtaining their gratification” (p. 284).
In his discussion of Christian liberty, the author writes: “There are not wanting men who avow the principle that Christians have nothing to do with the law of God; and there are many who would not avow such a general statement who are yet acting as if it were true. This is fearful delusion. The madman who has mistaken his tattered garments for the flowing robes of majesty, and his manacles for golden bracelets studded with jewels, has not erred so widely as the man who has mistaken carnal license for Christian liberty” (pp. 285, 285). One ought to see clearly in these writings of Brown that the charge of those teaching justification by faith and works, against the biblical position that justification by faith alone makes men careless and profane, is an invention of sinful minds to destroy a great doctrine of Scripture.
For the most part, the more technical questions involved in the commentary are relegated to the footnotes, and can be read by those who are interested in these matters.